There’s a culture out there in the wide, dark internet that thinks entertainment should be free. If you’re reading this post and you haven’t mailed me, oh, $3.50, let’s say, then you’re part of this culture. And who am I to say that some massive body of people have a bad culture? Nobody. But there are enough explosive, knee-jerk reactions to the word “piracy” (in an electronic context) that I think I need to give my two cents. One of the people I follow on Facebook compared pirates to “cow molesters, ” which I sincerely hope he meant as hyperbole because, let’s face it, free entertainment is one of the reasons people shell out money for internet connections.
Free entertainment is a long established cultural artifact on the web, and it’s not going away. Viral videos, anyone? The culture doesn’t necessarily restrict itself to the web, either; When was the last time you wrote one of the jokes you told?
The writers who are pissed about people pirating ebooks are justified in feeling like victims–books are hard work, and they’re usually a team effort–but when folks like the gent who compared pirates “Cow Molesters” paint with broad brushstrokes and declare their hatred for the faceless masses that are essentially taking the idea of a public library to its most extreme, it makes me wonder when I’ll get the bill for reading their blogs and facebook posts. It’s work to write blog posts and facebook statuses, after all, and I’m entertained by these things, so logically some monetary exchange is necessary. But I’m not paying them for their blog posts and status updates because I’m a terrible person who deserves to feel terrible. For those of you in the throes of guilt right now, we’re using the honor system. This time. Mail me the $3.50 whenever you feel like it.
Piracy is only a problem if artists and publishers let it be; business models need to be built around the culture they’re trying to profit in, rather than attempting to change that culture. The MOD anthology doesn’t have a problem with piracy because they give out a PDF version of their book alongside the versions for e-readers and the hardcopies that they sell. They adapted, and they’re suffering less for it.
Artists and publishers need to realize that in many, many cases, when a person steals media electronically, it’s not actually a lost sale. I’ve downloaded the MOD anthology four or five times since its come out. I certainly wasn’t going to buy a new copy every time; I was showing my story in it to friends. And they weren’t going to buy copies—they were humoring me. I’d wager that eight of ten times, someone who’s just downloaded media that they didn’t pay for did it because they wanted free—not cheap, free—entertainment. That person wasn’t in a place or frame of mind to spend money. If it was physically impossible to pirate anything, ever, the person we’re talking about wouldn’t have gone to a bookstore and picked up a CD, or gone to Amazon and downloaded something for his or her Kindle–this person would have went to go look at pictures of cats with captions over their heads. It’s exactly as easy to get to websites like that as it is to steal media—it’s one of the reasons I’m calling this a cultural artifact. The folks who do this don’t think of what they’re doing as theft and never will. If this had any hope of changing, laws like SOPA would have passed with something resembling a unanimous consensus.
Bitching about piracy won’t change anything, and good luck trying to punish that many people–the recording industry already stepped in that pile of shit. And it was a pile of shit because they were punishing people who hadn’t done anything wrong—the people who treated Kazaa like a radio station were lumped in with the assholes who with the “Fuck Blizzard, I’m going to pirate Diablo III” mindset. (Did I just mix two decades? Yes I did! All that and more for your $3.50, dear reader!)
Adapting isn’t even that hard. Responding to piracy with bigger and better locks on the treasure chests will only result in better tools for opening them. And don’t get me wrong, Steam and other such programs are nice (and lot better than they were at their inception), but they only re-enforce the culture I’m talking about, because I can still go to Steam and get free entertainment. There’s entertainment there I’ll pay for, too, like DLC for Civilization–but there’s enough free stuff (mostly demos, which are my version of icanhascheeseburger.com) that I tolerate the program.
To the people I can possibly reach with this post (and not the holier-than-thou jackwagons who think my Chinese friends are all scum because they use QQ’s built in music widget): Ever buy a computer second-hand? Did it already have Windows, MS Word, Photoshop, or (really) any other program at all, whether or not you did or could use it? Congrats. You bought hardware, not the licenses to use those programs. You’re a pirate, you’re scum, get off my internet. Or at least recognize that the previous sentence is only true if you live in a binary dystopia where, if you don’t mail me $3.50, I have you hauled to prison.